Ikebiri community is made up of several villages located on the Niger delta in the Nigerian state of Bayelsa. The main economic activities include palm oil production, canoe construction, fishing, agriculture and other traditional activities.
ENI operates in Nigeria through a company it wholly owns and controls, NAOC – Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited – which began in 1969 its operations in the territory of Ikebiri community, where it has several operating wells and pipes that guarantee various flow lines.
The events that led Ikebiri community to take legal action in Italy date back to 1999, when some members of the community, exasperated by NAOC’s refusal to compensate the serious, widespread damage resulting from the spills that occurred in 1972, 1980, 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1999, decided to protest by occupying the areas of some NAOC-owned wells.
According to the reconstruction of some NGOs, “soldiers escorting Agip personnel reportedly killed eight people, including a two-year-old child, from Ikebiri community” (A-1).
According to Amnesty International, security forces fired at two approaching boats, carrying some young men and two community leaders on board, and killed Zamiama Ayakoroma, Womiebi Ayamei, Nimi Belibotie, Owuleyefa Ebimo, Layefa Igoli, Williams Onitsha and Wisdom Oyatei (A-3).
The two leaders, Chief Samuel Fiobole and Chief Okon T. Esule, were kidnapped, beaten and released after two weeks (A-3).
The NGO then reports that no investigation on the massacre started (A-2).
What is left to Ikebiri community of this event is the loss of eight of its members, the arbitrary detention and beating of two of its leaders, as well as the belief that in Nigeria the occupation of property owned by an oil multinational company is evidently a much more serious crime than the massacre of eight natives.
The NAOC-owned oil pipeline along the Tebidaba-10′ Clough Creek line was damaged about 250 metres away from a stream in the northern part of the territories of Ikebiri community. The consequent spills polluted the river and the adjacent ponds, damaging both the fish fauna and the vegetation and irreparably compromising the sources of sustenance of the community.
On 11/4/10 a NAOC’s inspection commission, analysing the causes of the accident, recognized that it was caused by “equipment failure” (B-1), thus assuming total responsibility for what happened. In the area, NAOC owns several oil wells, pipelines and flow lines. The whole area was closed and, according to the findings of the community members, polluted land was set on fire. This was the only “decontamination” activity, carried out after the accident, of which the community became aware.
Community leaders promptly contacted NAOC to request adequate decontamination of the areas and compensation for damage, but NAOC did not do so.
Ikebiri community sends a formal letter to NAOC and ENI asking for decontamination of the areas and compensation for damage (C-1). ENI never replied.
NAOC replies on 8/5/15, claiming it has made the decontamination in the presence of NOSDRA and the Bayelsa State Ministry of the Environment, so much so that “the clean-up exercise was certified as successful”, and that it couldn’t pay compensation for damage due to divisions within the community (D-1).
A meeting is planned between the parties, held in August, during which NAOC reiterates that it has the certificate of successful decontamination, which however it refuses to show.
Another point of contrast concerns the area affected by the spill, which according to the expert appointed by the community in 2013, Mr. H.I. Festus, is 17.6 hectares wide (D-2). According to NAOC, the polluted area amounts to 9 hectares (in 2010).
Due to rains and fluctuations, the spilled oil was actually transported over 2 km away from the spill point, as it will be ascertained later, so the affected area is certainly larger.
The community assigns the International Energy Services Limited laboratory to perform chemical analyses of the areas to verify the state of contamination.
The ten soil samples collected have the following values (E-1):
– from 207 mg/kg to 193 mg/kg in the samples taken in the middle of the contaminated area (identified by applying the coordinates 5°55’00” East longitude – 4°39’36” North latitude, indicated by NAOC technicians, sheet 5) and taken 50 metres from the same point at the surface level of 13.17 cm below the ground;
– from 128 mg/kg to 99 mg/kg in the samples taken in the same points at the deeper level of 57.63 cm below the ground;
– from 126 mg/kg to 99.1 mg/kg in the samples taken in the control area (located 2 km away from the point mentioned above) at the surface level of 13.17 cm below the ground;
– from 103 mg/kg to 97.1 mg/kg in the samples taken in the control area but at the deeper level of 57.63 cm below the ground.
As noted by Dr. Beke in the report prepared to comment on the results of the analyses (E-2), if the natural attenuation of the contamination due to the passage of time is taken into account (6 years have passed since the spill date), the site presents a high level of pollution, considering that the maximum limit set by the Department of Petroleum Resources in its guidelines for deeming a site properly cleaned-up after a spill is 50 mg/kg, which means that for every kilo of soil there mustn’t be more than 50 milligrams of hydrocarbon residues.
However, this maximum limit is exceeded not only in the area immediately adjacent to the spill, but also 2 km away.
Ikebiri community, through its king Ododo Francis, delivers ENI and NAOC the summons (F-1), beginning the litigation before the Court of Milan. This trial is the first of its kind ever celebrated in Italy; it is the first time that an indigenous community is part of a trial in Italy and it is the first time that an Italian multinational company is sued in Italy for environmental damage caused by a subsidiary of its abroad.
The community asked the judge to:
1) ascertain the responsibility of the defendants in relation to the oil spill occurred in April 2010 in the territory of Ikebiri community;
2) ascertain that an area still polluted exists in the community’s territory due to the above-mentioned spill;
3) order that the defendants compensate all damage suffered by the community, at least for a sum of 689,198,400 Naira, or for the sum considered more appropriate according to the outcome of the preliminary investigation, plus interest and monetary revaluation;
4) order that the defendants carry out decontamination of the entire polluted area so to reduce the values below the threshold established by Nigerian law (50 mg/kg);
5) set a deadline within which the defendants will have to start the decontamination operations;
6) appoint a commission of two experts – one on the basis of the suer’s indications and one on the basis of the defendants’ indications – to supervise the decontamination operations and verify their success by unanimously certifying that the values do not exceed the legal parameters, ordering the relative costs be borne by the defendant jointly or severally;
7) should the defendants not engage in carrying out decontamination within the term indicated by the Court or should the values, after decontamination, not be below those established by the law, order that the defendants pay the community a sum of money sufficient to have the area cleared up by a specialized company;
8) order that the defendants reimburse all extrajudicial costs borne by the community or by environmental associations for the preparation of the trial;
9) order that the defendants jointly or severally pay the legal costs.
According to the community, NAOC is directly responsible for damage and failure to decontaminate, while the controlling company ENI is responsible for not complying with the obligations arising from the duty of supervision.
ENI and NAOC send their defences to the Court, raising many exceptions and making various preliminary requests to avoid beginning the trial.
In particular, according to them, the Italian judge does not have jurisdiction, Ikebiri community does not have the legitimacy to act, the community can’t be represented in Court by its king, the rights of the community are expired, the community carries responsibility for not having allowed NAOC to pay compensation, decontamination was regularly carried out.
Thus, NAOC lodges the famous certificate of successful decontamination (G-1), which however is dated 15/12/15. Consequently, NAOC gave a false testimony in its letter dated May 2015 and during the August 2015 meeting.
The decontamination certificate was issued five and a half years after the spill and only after the formal letter sent by the community, contesting to NAOC the failure to decontaminate.
First hearing before the Court of Milan. The judge does not take into consideration NAOC’s and ENI’s exceptions and postpones the trial, granting the parties the possibility to integrate their defences and documents.
Ikebiri community lodges three depositions (H-1, H-2 and H-3), while ENI and NAOC only two.
During the trial, NAOC asks the community to reach an agreement.
The community and NAOC reach a secret agreement, which provides for the withdrawal from the trial. ENI agrees.
The Court of Milan declares the proceedings dismissed.